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The much anticipated presidential debate organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in Tamale saw Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and Dr. Michael Abu Sakara Forster of the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP) outshining their co-debaters on how they articulated their points.
What came as a surprise to many was President John Dramani Mahama’s virtual endorsement of the much talked-about ‘free senior high education’ proposed by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).
“I am for making secondary education free,” President Mahama blurted out, sending Nana Addo into a wild laughter.
It is unclear why President Mahama betrayed this contradiction since his party has been the biggest critics of the free education concept.
Nana Addo insisted that free secondary education was about priority.
“My priority is to provide free, quality education for the children of this country. My priority is not to pay judgment debts… This is an urgent matter of priority for me and I do not have the time to wait like my political opponents seem inclined to.”
He said Ghana could afford to offer free education to its youth if over GH¢830million could be paid in the name of judgment debts.
Dr Abu Sakara said: “We don’t have to debate making senior high school education free. It is a must. When people say we cannot afford it, I ask: who will volunteer for their child to be left behind?”
As for Hassan Ayariga, he was not part of the debate as he kept flip flopping like ECG light.
He was however quick to add, “But like I said, for a foundation of a house where you have not carried out your obligations to the ordinary of this country and to the Constitution.”
Furthermore, he noted, “to say that your priority is to spend that money to make senior high school free when you still have not eliminated cost at the basic level, children are not able to have access even at the secondary level, infrastructure is not available for all children who qualify to go into school; that is a misplaced priority”, indicating that “this vision that he is trying to make a promise in order to win political power is provided for in our Constitution; every government, President who’s sworn in this country has an obligation to respect that Constitution.”
That, he said, was because “you are standing the whole process on its head; we are saying we will expand access at the secondary level…to allow more children to be able to take advantage of whatever reduction in fees we are going to provide at the secondary level, we are going to create new teacher training colleges, colleges of education; to provide teachers for the basic level so that more children all over the country have the opportunity to pass through the basic and to be able to reach the secondary.”
“When you haven’t done that, you say because of political campaign promise, I will make education free at the secondary level so that a certain category of people benefits but the rest of you can wallow in ignorance and poverty; that is not fair,” he added.
Nana Addo’s performance became evident at the early stage of the debate when he was spontaneously given a rousing applause from the audience after answering questions about how to make the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) more functional.
That applause was in defiance of an earlier directive banning applauses during the debate.
The stern directive was issued by the moderators of the debate, Prof Jane Naana Opoku Agyeman, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, and Kojo Opong Nkrumah, a radio presenter from Joy FM.
President Mahama took a shot at Nana Akufo-Addo when the NPP presidential candidate said he would make his vice president, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia, the chairman of the National Development Planning Commission, to effectively implement the commission’s plans.
However, President Mahama said the NPP leader’s position would politicise the commission.
He argued that the NPP’s position did not give room for imputation of ideas and policies from political parties and other interested groups to give the NDPC its national character and its plans binding on all.
“Indeed, I think that there is confusion in the mind of the NPP presidential candidate in the answer he gave that is exactly the concern we have in this country that when a political party leaves government, the plans and visions that are instituted are thrown away. And so, if we assume that every four-year cycle a government potentially could lose elections, it means every four years we will have a new national development planning framework. And that is why the CRC flagged that issue.”
The 2008 NDC manifesto suggested that the president would be made the chairman of the commission.
But currently, the chairman, P.V. Obeng is a senior member of the ruling NDC who was even tipped as a potential vice president following the death of President Atta Mills.
The four presidential aspirants at the debate yesterday consisted of all the presidential candidates whose parties have representation in Parliament.
The debate in Tamale was the first time a sitting president was put on the same debating platform as other presidential aspirants.
When the presidential candidates positioned themselves on the podium, they exhibited a mix of emotions.
President Mahama and Hassan Ayariga were smiling uneasily while Dr. Abu Sakara and Nana Addo had stern looks.
President Mahama was first introduced without an incident, as the audience maintained their composure; next came Dr. Abu Sakara and Hassan Ayariga of the PNC respectively.
The last to be introduced was the NPP’s candidate Nana Akufo-Addo who was the only one to be applauded at the first introduction.
When the questions started flying, it became apparent that the candidates of the two major parties- NDC and NPP- turned the guns on each other.
During the first round of the questions that dwelt on the NDPC, taxation and employment, Nana Addo took shots at President Mahama in a bid to put him on the defensive.
This plan apparently worked as President Mahama responded directly to the pokes of the NPP candidate.
President Mahama became clearly reactive at Nana Addo’s tactics of putting him on the spot on issues such as the NHIS and free senior high school.
For instance, when asked about the potential threat of the resource paradox popularly called the ‘“Dutch Disease’, as Ghana exploited its oil resources, Nana answered that the Dutch Disease had already crept in, during the NDC’s era. President Mahama was clearly not happy about the NPP candidate’s taunt, retorting, “I don’t know their [the NPP’s] understanding of the Dutch Disease”.
Nana Addo again took pot-shots at the NDC, saying the party’s inaction was threatening the existence of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) developed in 2003 to improve access to healthcare.
Again, President Mahama was not amused about the NPP candidate’s criticisms about the way the NDC was running the NHIS. “I don’t know why he [Nana Addo] keeps doing this.”
But Nana Addo said people were now falling sick under the NDC administration with a ratio of three to one while under the previous NPP administration it was one to one ratio.
Incidentally, during the debate, the ideas and the plans of the CPP appeared to have agreed with those of the NPP, particularly in terms of the free basic education policy and industrialisation policies.
Hassan Ayarigah of the PNC appeared to have been the one with the lowest ratings during the debate, as all comments on social media were mostly against his performance.
His presentation was on several occasions, punctuated with disapproving murmurs or laughter from the audience.
Ayariga has been at the receiving end of public criticism since his appearance on the IEA platform.
An earlier programme organized by the IEA in Accra also attracted similar conclusions from observers.
Last night’s encounter ended on a more patriotic note as the candidates held hands and sang “yen ara yen asaase ne.”
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